pop marketing

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Brand eXperience.

X. Where Experience Meets Design is Brian Solis’s new book, one I suspect will be a big seller. Why? Because product and brand experience are critical customer care-abouts. Another reason? Advertising and marketing agencies can bill for it; it’s a business. Brand experience was a smart business the first time I ran into it at Megan Kent and David Kessler’s Starfish Brand Design. They were, and are, big fans of what Mr. Solis is now branding X.

Dare I say brand experience will become the pop marketing term of the 20 teens? Maybe not a whirlwind term such as “transparency” or “authenticity,” but it’ll be a thing. Bet on it.

That said, anyone can talk experience. Anyone can even build an experience. But for it to be meaningful and make deposits in the brand bank, it cannot be random. A brand experience needs to be on brand strategy – defined as an “organizing principle containing a claim and three support planks.”

Experience in brick and mortar and online are manageable, but certainly not easy. Without a brand strategy it will not only be messy — it may be counterproductive. Let’s see where Mr. Solis takes us. Off to order the book.


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Charlene Li, a great business mind, recently sold Altimeter Group to Prophet, a long standing brand and marketing concern. Charlene is, and has been, a great meme-alist. She comes up with big business ideas and memes them. These memes helped put the Altimeter Group on the map. Each meme, a mini brand, constitutes a “proof” of her innovative business approach.

Now at Prophet, however, she seems to be doing things a bit differently. Next week she is hosting a webinar on improving employee engagement. No doubt it will be a good one, because engagement has become big business these days. (Back in the early 80s my dad Fred Poppe used the word in a number of Ad Age thought pieces, giving him national cred.) That said, engagement has become a pop-marketing term and the title of Ms. Li’s talk feels a bit “early majority,” perhaps even a little “late majority” to use Geoffrey A. Moore’s framework.

What I love about Ms. Li is her “beyond the dashboard” approach. She needs to settle into her new office before mad redecorating. I suspect she will be back on her game shortly. Then watch out!




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Learn from a salesman.

One of the things that makes watching the Olympics on TV so compelling is the human interest piece they do on athletes before each event. Usually it revolves around a home town and a hardship conveyed by friends, family or teachers. These back-stories not only set context, but allow viewer a little emotional skin in the game.

In advertising, this is not really possible. It used to be in the early days of long copy print ads, not anymore; not in this fast twitch media world with smart phone ads the size of a pinky finger.

The ability to set the stage for selling using exposition is something great sales people do. They story tell with examples tied to the course of the conversation. And they story tell, not off the boiler plate talking points of the company, but using heart and soul of experiences (or proofs) that carry emotional “reasons to prefer” a brand. As I mentioned in my last post, that’s usually not material-based but experience-based.

This is the heart of storytelling today. And it was learned from belly-to-belly salespeople, as are most great selling schemes and techniques.

Web sites could borrow a page. Peace.


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Some of my best brand strategy work has been done when asked to do something else. I’ve been hired to rebuild a website for a small commercial company, to fix a floundering relationship between client and agency, and to create a content marketing strategy for a trillion dollar financial institution. Had I told them I was a brand planner “here to fix your brand,” they would have thought me a vacuum cleaner salesman. Rather, they had a need and I held that need up first and foremost — addressing the “buildable.”

Buildables are how modern day agencies are paid. Rare is the day that strategy is a line item on an invoice. (It’s getting better, but not close to the rule.)

So with an eye on the buildable, I go to work. On a brief. Most pop advertising and marketing theory today suggests using a short brief. Not me. I like to go all Medium.com on the brand strategy. The idea from the brief is short and focused, yet the journey to the idea is rich. Yesterday I presented a two word brand idea. Can you imagine? 20 +interviews, thousands of words and stories in the strategy stock pot, lots of IP and category learning over the years and a 2 word brand strategy? (It was supported by 3 planks and lots of proof.) Audacious? Hardly.

It fit. It organized. It created a launching pad for buildables. Peace.

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What’s the Idea? is soon fielding a piece of research to better understand the state of the state of content marketing. The survey should go live this week. It is partly the result of some consulting I’ve been doing this summer in the digital space on content strategy. Our feeling is that there is a lot of content marketing talk but very little codified strategy. I understand it’s a fairly new, pop marketing pursuit and as such heavily in tactics mode – a la, during World War II, build tanks furiously, we’ll figure out how to use them – but when it comes to marketing, too much emphasis on tactics sans strategy can dilute brand meaning. So our poll will quantify the use of content strategy on websites and social settings, especially in mid-sized companies. herding cats

Today I came across a new-ish title in the press: Chief Content Officer. I suspect it’s an outgrowth of this content marketing frenzy. Anyone tasked with herding the content cats with a chief title is okay by me. But is it a real chief title or just a director level title? And does the chief content officer have the same power as the chief marketing officer? I would hope not.

As a brand planner and someone familiar with the executive suite, it is obvious to me that the CMO should set direction for the chief content officer. A company with dueling chiefs in this area (healthy though the ultimate outcome may be), seems way dysfunctional. I love the function of a chief content officer, don’t get me wrong, but it feels a little affected and nouveau. I’ll do a little more studying and keep you posted. Peace. 


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Engage Maslow.

Is it easy to engage the angry? Of course it is. Toss a match. Is it easy to engage Zen-ed out lovers of life? Sure, toss a petal or feather.

Talking sports with a sports guy, Pearl Jam with a Ten Club member, Common Core with a teacher – these are topics about which people can easily engage; even people who don’t know one another. When it comes to selling, however, engagement is not so easy.  That’s why the word “engagement” is such a popular topic in marketing.  Fred C. Poppe, often wrote about engagement in the 70s and 80 and it did him well, but today engagement is almost a cult-like pursuit. 

People are not always consumers.  Sometimes, they are just people. When you treat people as consumers you treat them differently. And they can smell you a mile away. Pop marketing suggests we need to give people things of value with our marketing and communication to earn their interest. True this. But everyone’s definition of value may change by time of day, stage of life, and as Robert Scoble will talk about in his upcoming book situational context.

The best marketing is based on a full-duplex model. A two way model. One way marketing is over. The days of things sticking to the wall are over. Today we are talking to people. People who are twitching away from our messages with increasing speed.  Planners who search for people value – think Maslow – are the best searchers. Peace.

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Sean Boyle, a really smart Publicis brand planner, once told me good brand strategies offer a poetic appeal. To understand his point, I suspect it is much easier to look at a brand strategy and notice a lack of poetry than is to articulate  a poetic frame.  I’ve tried poetry. When my pops died, I wrote one. Following powerful relationships, others. They weren’t “There once was a man from Nantucket” ditties, they were home-grown and from the heart. Without rhyme or perfect tempo.  They were my tempo.    

Poetry and what is poetic is in the eyes of the beholder I reckon, so Sean’s notion about good strategy will be different to each planner. But let’s agree to say poetic ideas are pregnant ideas. And dimensional. Ideas that strike up emotion. Certainly they can provide rational context — it is the real world after all. Perhaps this is why “storytelling” is such a pop marketing topic of the day. But storytelling and the journey and all that other brand-speak, is only as good at the strategy that gave it birth. Only as good as the morals of those stories.  “A closer shave” is not poetic, “a softer rough” just might be. Peace.    

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In a presentation I wrote while with JWT during its tenure on Microsoft I came upon an insight I called the “logged and tagged society.”  It was intended to be a business insight identifying how employees at larger companies are somewhat interchangeable – with knowledge workers being replaced by armies of freelance soldiers with log-ons and access to tagged assets, information and data. But that was then…a couple of years ago.  It’s still true but logged and tagged now is also extends to consumer life.

Facebook yesterday launched a new search tool called Search Graph which does more than count likes, it attempts to get one to personal proclivities faster.  I tried to read the story but got a little tangled and bored and twitched away. That said, it is Facebook’s way of trying to improve search results keeping people on “the book” and making more of da monies.   Using my logged and tagged lens, it’s their way of fighting through the tags and searchables.

As the searchable words and tags grow in this exponentially data driven world (Can I read any more big data stories before breakfast???), search will continue to become less accurate and in need of improvement.  And as communications agents continue to spread the pop marketing fallacy that consumers own brands, this environment will create greater demand for brand planners. Brand planning is about returning control to marketing…not algorithm tweaking.


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Here’s what marketers can learn from teachers…good teachers, that is.  Much selling these days, especially of the B2B variety, is done via PowerPoint. On average, it is done in 18 slides, anywhere from 12-60 words per slide, one or two pictures – and a flow that would make music bed blush. That’s how marketers and salespeople roll.

Teachers on the other hand, face a room filled with 22+ kids, all of whom have different IQs, learning styles and attention levels.  Good teachers assess the entire room of kids and create learning experiences to meet all of their needs. Poor teachers teach to the middle, to the median.

What marketers can learn from good teachers is sensitivity to the individuals, not the median audience. Using that sensitivity, born of bi-directional interaction, they can provide instructive, discovery-based selling scenarios. Make everyone in the audience feel smart, by allowing them to deduce and conclude. (And I’m not talking about the “solution selling” pop marketing approach of last decade, “Tell me about your pain points”.)

Ads can’t really take this individualized approach; they have to work for the whole classroom. That said, Brits do good job in this area with their ad craft. Everything is not served up rote.  Selling requires some brain work.

Now, I wonder what teachers can learn from marketers. Hmmm. Peace.


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So my friend Mr. X, who is a great ad and idea guy, is telling me about a goob (short for goober) he worked for a few months ago. She had a presumably well-paying job at an ad agency  but he could tell she was an empty suit.  Said boss once mentioned to Mr. X, with whom I’ve had a strategic donnybrook or two, that strategy is not that important.  “Strategy is fluid, Mr. X” she said imperiously. Now Mr. X might stray from the brief every once in a while in an effort to perk up an idea – but he giggles over the fluid notion.

Strategy is not fluid.  But WTF, I don’t know everything – so I posted the question on the account planners group on LinkedIn.  The response seems to favor the fluidity side of the argument, though primarily in nuance and interpretation. It seems fluid is a pop marketing word these days.

Marilyn Laurie of AT&T marketing fame once talked about her brand as a bank.  You are either putting deposits in the brand bank or you’re making withdrawals. Well, here’s a fluidity question:  If you don’t have a brand strategy, clearly defined, how will you know what’s a deposit?  Riddle me that. Idea and planks.  Aka claim and proof. The organizing principle of brand strategy. Peace!   

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